Although the vast majority of Americans favor laws that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, LGBTQ+ teachers continue to face descrimination and harassment based on sexual preference and gender identity. Such descrimination is illegal, but local policies that protect LGBTQ+ teachers are inconsistent, and a surge in anti-LGBTQ bills threatens strip protections against workplace descrimination. Use this guide to learn more about LGBTQ+ teacher issues, rights, and resources.
LGBTQ+ Education Statistics
A review of LGBTQ+ and education statistics provides a sense of the number of teachers who are likely directly affected by anti-LGBTQ+ legislation:
- An estimated 8% of the U.S. population, some 20 million adults, identifies as LGBTQ+.
- There are approximately 3.2 million teachers in the United States.
It’s important to remember that teachers are not the only ones affected by unwelcoming or hostile education environments:
- More than 20% of high school students in the U.S. identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or other/questioning, according to the CDC.
- Multiple surveys have confirmed that LGBTQ+ students are more likely to experience bullying, acts of violence, and homelessness. These issues lead to overall worse performance and an increased likelihood that these students will drop out of school.
However, there is hope: Many schools have made conscious efforts to reduce LGBTQ+-based bullying and create more tolerant educational atmospheres. This can increase the odds of an LGBTQ+ student feeling accepted and completing their education.
Current Environment for LGBTQ+ Teachers
Environments for LGBTQ+ teachers in the U.S. vary widely depending on geography. As has been widely reported, there are many areas where being an LGBTQ+ teacher has become extremely difficult. Consider the following examples:
- Legislation recently passed in Florida has banned teachers from discussing any sexuality or gender information. Still, the enforcement of the law has turned it into the so-called “don’t say gay” bill that makes it impossible for any conversation around LGBTQ+ rights to be discussed. This has created an environment of fear for LGBTQ+ teachers, who are now fearful of being fired for simply discussing their own lives.
- Seven states have passed similar legislation. It has also been proposed in other states, like Louisiana and Ohio. While it has not yet become law, LGBTQ+ teachers and their allies are fearful that these measures will eventually become law, making it very difficult for these teachers to fulfill their responsibilities.
- LGBTQ+ teachers across the country have been fired for even discussing any LGBTQ-related issue. Examples include a teacher in Ohio who was fired for giving out pride bracelets and a Florida LGBTQ+ teacher who was fired for even discussing LGBTQ+ topics.
LGBTQ+ Educator Rights
The attacks on LGBTQ+ teachers have made it more important that everyone understand their rights and know the legal resources they have at their disposal.
As noted by GLSEN, LGBTQ+ teachers have many rights, including:
- The ability to work in the public sphere as an LGBTQ+ individual. This means that LGBTQ+ teachers have the legal right to work and discuss their relationships or to keep them private. It is entirely up to the individual in question.
- The right to be public or private about their gender identity, sexual orientation, and relationship status. This means that LGBTQ+ teachers can openly discuss their relationships, have pictures of their loved ones, and more.
- The ability to go to school as their true gender, meaning use facilities and dress in the gender that they identify with.
- The ability to work in an atmosphere that is free from harassment and misgendering by other teachers, administration members, or students.
- The opportunity to work with students who have questions about their own gender identity or sexual orientation, helping counsel them or recommend them to additional resources within the scope of your normal professional responsibilities.
Whlle the proliferation of “don’t say gay” legislation threatens these basic rights, LGBTQ+ advocates, allies, and civil rights advocates are not ceding the fight. In Florida, for example, a group of advocates and parents sued the state over such legislation.
Why Representation of LGBTQ+ Teachers is Important
There is a simple truth in the educational world: Representation matters.
As noted above, LGBTQ+ students have a variety of difficulties in school and the professional world in general. They are more likely to suffer from a wide array of problems in completing their educational careers. However, there’s good news: With the help of positive role models, LGBTQ+ students can graduate school and have happy, successful careers. When they are raised in an atmosphere that is loving and accepting, LGBTQ+ students have the same educational and emotional outcomes as heterosexual students.
As we all know, teachers can have a massive effect on the lives of their students. They are often seen as positive role models whose life experiences can validate those of students. By seeing and working with LGBTQ+ teachers who are positive role models, students can learn to embrace who they are. If a student is questioning their own gender identity or sexual orientation, a teacher, guidance counselor or other role models can provide critical advice that can help the student in question discover who they are. Even if the LGBTQ+ teacher in question doesn’t work directly with a student, they can help to show that LGBTQ members of our society are fully integrated, accepted, and happy.
LGBTQ+ teachers do not need to work with LGBTQ+ students to be valuable. Instead, by simply doing their job, LGBTQ+ teachers can help to demonstrate to all students that they are full and valued members of society. This can fulfill a critical need and demonstrate that LGBTQ+ individuals should be held to the same standards of love and acceptance as any other member of society.
LGBTQ+ Educator Resources
The following are just a few of the resources available for LGBTQ+ teachers and allies:
- ACLU. Those descriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity can request help from the the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU also has local affiliates.
- EEOC. A teacher who believe they have been descriminated against at work based on their sexual orientation or gender identity can file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Individuals and organizations can also file a charge on behalf of another person. Professionals with the EEOC can help address concerns and assess the best course of action, including the decision to file a charge.
- Fair Employment Practices Agencies. State and local agencies and laws that prohibit descrimination are collectively known as FEPAs. These agencies often have work sharing agreements with EEOC, but it’s important to review local protections that may exceed those provided by federal law.
- GLSEN’s Educator Resources page, which has guides, pronoun forms, book recommendations, and networks of LGBTQ+ teachers that can discuss various issues within the classroom and how these issues impact them. They also have a page on policy recommendations for schools and teachers.
- The National Education Association has a page on LGBTQ+ resources. This includes maps, videos, and information on how LGBTQ+ teachers can teach and assist other students. It also has an extensive link page that gives websites for LGBTQ+ teachers and organizations in all fifty states, thus ensuring that LGBTQ+ teachers can connect with local advocates.
- LGBTQ History has a page on LGBTQ+ history. This page links to information, projects, fact sheets, and more that teach the history of the LBGTQ+ population in America. It also links to specific examples that have been taught in schools throughout the country.
- The Safe Zone Project has a list of available training for LGBTQ+ teachers and their allies. This is a long list of potential resources that teachers can use for specific lessons or for general guidance as they teach LGBTQ+ students.